8 Essential Tips For Biking In The Winter

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Cycling is an extremely rewarding sport.

Whether you’re summer cycling or biking in the winter, getting on two wheels allows you to get from A to B, keep fit, and feel immersed in your surroundings and connected to the landscape around you all at the same time!

For some, however, it’s very much a summer sport.

In places with extreme variation in day length, winter might not provide enough daylight hours to schedule regular rides around your daily life.

For others, it’s just not as pleasant to cycle around in winter. Perhaps it’s particularly rainy or very cold, and you don’t find it as enjoyable in such conditions.

But in reality, there are very few places where you cannot go biking in winter and winter cycling can be extremely beautiful and very rewarding.

Particularly on brisk, sunny winter mornings, the light takes on a glowing quality that makes all of the landscape around you even more beautiful, so long as you’re prepared for the weather.

To help you spend time in the saddle throughout the colder months, we’ll be covering:

  • #1. Layering Up
  • #2. Investing In Some Good Quality Winter Kit
  • #3. Plan Your Rides Ahead Of Time, But Be Flexible
  • #4. Being Prepared For Rain
  • #5. Being Prepared For Darkness
  • #6. Try Indoor Training
  • #7. Using A Winter Bike
  • #8. Cycling Slower

Let’s get to it!

Biking In The Winter: Title Image

#1. Layering Up

Perhaps the most common mistake people make when trying to ride in winter is not correctly layering up. Unsuitable clothing can really take the enjoyment out of the ride.

If it’s wet or cold and you don’t have the correct layers, your descents will be ruined. If you’re wearing a layer that’s too thick, then you risk being too warm when you get going.

You need to wear sufficient layers such that you can remove them or add them when necessary. It’s a good idea to feel a little bit chilly when you leave the house, as you’ll warm up once you get going. But makes sure you have some extra layers for if you stop!

A good example of the possible layers you can wear is a buff, gloves, thermal top, long-sleeved jersey, padded gilet, windproof softshell, and waterproof hardshell.

On the bottom, you could wear thermal bottoms, bib tights, thermal socks, cycling shoes, and overshoes.

This gives you so many options as to how much you want to be wearing during different sections of the ride. Perhaps the sun comes out, or you’re attempting a climb, and you need to wear less, or it starts raining, or you’re about to descend, and you need to layer up.

Even if it’s somewhat warmer than you expected when you leave, bring enough layers! It’s much better to have them and not need them than need them and not have them.

A cyclist rides along a snow-covered mountain road on a mountain bike.

#2. Invest in some good quality kit for biking in the winter

Now, it’s all well and good correctly layering up, but if you have a waterproof that’s not very waterproof, thermals that don’t keep the heat in, and gloves that don’t keep your hands warm, it’s not really going to help you too much.

Investing in some good quality winter gear will make a huge difference to your rides. The areas that are particularly worth investing in is a good waterproof, warm thermal, and some high-quality gloves.

In terms of the waterproof, you want it to be rated to at least 10,000 mm if you want it to keep you dry while on a bike. Even light rain feels significantly heavier when you’re cycling into it.

Breathability is also important, so ensure that what you get is still breathable.

For a thermal, there are lots of different options, but the important part is that it keeps you warm enough. It’s worth trying a few different ones and making sure it fits you properly before settling for one.

If you’re bikepacking or riding long distances, merino wool is always a good choice since it is naturally anti-bacterial and doesn’t smell so much after a lot of use.

As far as gloves go, it’s good to have one pair that’s great for dry but cold weather and another that’s waterproof. Waterproof gloves are rarely breathable, so your hands might get a little warm and sweaty, but at least they won’t be wet!

A cyclist rides across hard-packed snow.

#3. Plan your rides ahead of time, but be flexible

If you want to get out on the bike a certain number of times in a week, say, it’s worth checking the forecast for the whole week in the beginning and planning your rides accordingly.

However, a forecast more than a few days in advance is an educated guess at best, so if you can, be flexible and prepared to change your ride time if the weather isn’t ideal.

Sometimes though, it’s necessary to ride in the rain or extreme conditions – and that’s why you have all this excellent gear!

#4. Being prepared for rain

While we’re on the subject of weather forecasts, if it says it’s not going to rain, don’t just trust it blindly!

Weather systems are extremely complex, and any slight error in the initial temperature and pressure conditions can force the models to produce wildly different predictions, even in the near future.

So, in winter, always bring a waterproof! Again, it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

A cyclist rides along a gravel path at night.

#5. Being prepared for darkness

In winter, the shorter days can really sneak up on you.

Sometimes you don’t realize quite how early it’s getting dark. You go off on your ride, take a little longer than usual, and before you know it, you’re in a race with the sunset!

Riding in the dark can be very dangerous, so you should take every step necessary to avoid being unsafe on the roads. Take a good set of lights and a reflective jacket, even if you’re not planning on riding in the dark.

  • Check out our 7 Vital Safety Tips For Cycling At Night here!

#6. Try Indoor Training

For some people, riding in winter is just not possible.

Maybe their busy schedule makes it very difficult, the conditions are just too extreme where they live, or they’re simply unwilling to brave the rain or cold.

In this case, it’s a good idea to get an indoor trainer. You can easily keep your fitness up and spend some time in the saddle without leaving the warmth and comfort of your own home.

If you haven’t tried it in a while, you may be picturing a monotonous, painful exertion while staring at a brick wall.

However, modern trainers have come a long way, and with the introduction of programs like Zwift or Peloton, they can be a lot more engaging and enjoyable.

You can even ride with your buddies through such programs and interact with them continuously throughout the ride.

A strip of black ashpalt stretches through a snow-covered landscape.

#7. Using A winter bike

One of the downsides of cycling in winter is that you risk wearing out your bike or components more quickly.

Increased debris and dirt on the roads get kicked up into your drivetrain and between the moving parts, increasing the friction.

If you don’t want this to happen, or it’s deterring you from riding your bike in winter, then it could be a good idea to get a winter bike.

A bike with lower-quality components, a sturdier frame that you don’t mind about so much, and a wider, beefier set of wheels and tires. This way, you don’t wear out all of your expensive gear, and you can still ride throughout the winter months.

Wider, sturdier tires will also aid in keeping you safer on the road. A larger contact patch between the tire and the road means a larger force is required to make your wheels slip. This reduces your chance of having an accident due to the conditions.

For this reason, many who can’t afford or don’t have the space for a winter bike just use winter wheels, keeping them safer and saving their race-quality tires for the summer months!

A cyclist rides past a field in the winter sun.

#8. Cycling Slower

Although cycling in winter can be just as fun, it can also be more dangerous, so it’s a good idea to be mindful of the road conditions.

Even if you’re using winter tires, a big patch of black ice that you speed over can easily lead to an accident.

It’s sensible to cycle a little slower at this time of year to ensure that you have sufficient time to check the road in front of you and so that, if you do come off, you’re not going to injure yourself quite so severely.

Additionally, cycling slower will reduce the wind chill you feel on the bike and perhaps make you feel a little warmer.

Another added bonus of cycling a little slower is that you will feel even more immersed in your surroundings, with the time to really take in the scenery!

Enjoyed this guide to biking in the winter? Check out more from the BikeTips experts below!

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Jack is an experienced cycling writer based in San Diego, California. Though he loves group rides on a road bike, his true passion is backcountry bikepacking trips. His greatest adventure so far has been cycling the length of the Carretera Austral in Chilean Patagonia, and the next bucket-list trip is already in the works. Jack has a collection of vintage steel racing bikes that he rides and painstakingly restores. The jewel in the crown is his Colnago Master X-Light.

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